Distortion - » » Interview with Stefan Olsdal and Miguel Lopez Mora

Back to TOP
Interview with Stefan Olsdal and Miguel Lopez Mora
Interview with Stefan Olsdal and Miguel Lopez Mora

When you can feel the music, thats when its right, says Placebo founder Stefan Olsdal about his new side-project Digital 21+ Stefan Olsdal, which he created together with his old friend Miguel López Mora. In 2017 the artists released their debut album Inside, having worked on the record away from one another and without discussing the concept. The main goal was to convey their own identity through music. Before their Moscow concert Stefan and Miguel told us about their project Digital 21, working on the album and the trends of the electronic scene.

We are happy to see you in Moscow!

Stefan: Were excited to be here, we love Moscow!

Miguel, its your first time in Russia, whats your impression?

Miguel: The impression is very good! I love it! Today is a wonderful day. Its a free day, at last.
Stefan: Miguel works 24 hours a day; no, 23 hours and a half actually, so for him to come here to Russia is almost like a day of holidays.
Miguel: Yes, this is my holiday. And its amazing.

Unfortunately, several concerts had to be canceled, and now you are playing only in Moscow. Can we hope that you will return soon to play for your fans in other Russian cities?

Miguel: Sure!
Stefan: Its what we want to do!

We are all excited about your Moscow concert. Should we expect anything special? Any surprises?

Stefan: Well, if we said what a surprise would be, it wouldnt be a surprise.

Ok, anything special?

Stefan: Every show is special, and the special element to the show is the fact that we are playing live in front of an audience, and we all share the energy, we all sharing the experience. And thats something that you cant download; its not something that you can foresee. It happens on the night, and its live, its emotions. Hopefully we will create some beautiful memories together with the audience. Thats the special thing!

Interview with Stefan Olsdal and Miguel Lopez Mora

A year ago your debut album Inside was released. While recording it away from one another and living in different countries, have you discussed any general concepts of your record before you started working on it? Can you share with us some interesting memories about recording this album?

Miguel: Memories are good, but they are from five years ago, so they are quite old memories.
Stefan: Yes, the band started five years ago.
Miguel: And its quite brilliant, because the fact that we are in different countries means that sometimes we work intensely for one or two weeks, so we have a lot of memories that come like flashes. We dont discuss the concept, we make music, we make songs. Things happen, sometimes our music is stronger, and sometimes its softer. Our good memories go further than five years, because weve been friends for fourteen years, and we have a lot of good memories, in the album, or outside the album. To me days-off, holidays, like today, mean a lot. When we started to record the album, we went to the cinema one night, and we bought a lot of cakes and stuff. We saw movie, Suzie; and it was a very god memory for me. Not everything is about the songs.

While listening to the record, it sounds like you pay a great attention to details. Is that right?

Stefan: I think a lot of attention was put into details because were both very passionate about the music. When you spend that amount of time making a record, it becomes almost the most important thing in your life. So it has to be as good as it can be. So, yes we do pay a lot of attention to detail, its important for us.
Miguel: Yes, we are both perfectionists. We put high demands on ourselves.

Interview with Stefan Olsdal and Miguel Lopez Mora

Are you planning to release a new album any time soon?

Stefan: Yes. We are continuously writing and recording music. Just 2 days ago there was one completely new song, premiered on the radio. So now weve just come from the studio, where we are recording the second album. So expect new material very soon and the album to follow in the new year.

Any ideas for the new album? Would it be different from previous one? Any special concept?

Stefan: I think just by the nature of who we are as people and as musicians that carries its own identity. We havent sat down to decide, like Miguel said, the concept. Its the music that gets us off. Its when you feel the music, thats when its right. And we both feel when its right. Thats the sound of the band.
Miguel: Sometimes you only realize that when other people speak to you. For example, few months ago a friend of mine from Madrid, a DJ, was listening to the radio in the car with his girlfriend, and he heard a song of ours which he didnt know. He called me straight away just to say:We knew it! It were you and Stefan. Just because of the sound. His girlfriend recognized some special sounds and special strings. Maybe we dont see as much difference as other people who listen to our music.

What composition from the album Inside is your favorite, and the one to which you can relate?

Miguel: Im afraid I cant name one. I relate to all of them. Its like having three children, three boys, and you say one is better.
Stefan: Well, you do!
Miguel: Really? No!
Stefan: Yes its very difficult, like you said, but for me music is very much a mood-based artform. Like in the morning you dont want to listen to the same music as when you are out for a walk, or when you want to get ready to go out, or when you cant sleep, or when you feel depressed, or you feel happy, or you are in love. So for me the album has songs that I will listen to depending on how I feel. I think music communicates on an emotional level. You can see that from the very young children, they respond to music before they respond to visual art or to words. Its a very direct form of communication, which goes straight to your feelings.

Interview with Stefan Olsdal and Miguel Lopez Mora

Your music is very special. How difficult is it to play your music in a live show, while retaining the atmosphere?

Stefan: Well, I think we are quite adaptable. When we play live, we have different formations. If the stage size and the budget allow, we bring the full show, which is eight people. We have a string quartet, guitars, key boards, vocalists, and a drummer. But for production reasons and for the type of venue our first show in Moscow will be in modern club, with a smaller stage. So its going to be the formation of four and the songs and the set list had to be adapted for the venue.

Both of you perform for different audiences at huge stadiums as well as in small clubs and Miguel also performs in museums and theatres. Does the venue affect the show? What was the most memorable performance in your musical history? And which audience is closer to your heart?

Miguel: For me it was definitely one of our shows. Perhaps the one in Madrid, at the Museum of Fine Arts. And its not about the building; it was like the dream come true! Maybe it was so emotional because it was the first gig of the album. And in my own past, it was the Guggenheim museum, I really loved playing the second album there. It was such a good gig.
Stefan: For me it was playing for Gay Pride in Madrid this year. It was a production technical nightmare because everyone before us was a singer with a computer, with a laptop! And Miguel is like: No no, we have to do the full show. And I say: You are crazy, we have 10 minutes to prepare the stage and there are eight of us! There are no cables, no monitors, there is nothing on stage. This is insane! So anyway, we pull everything up, and we get it together in 10, maybe 15 minutes. And it was just so great! It was the 40-th anniversary of Gay Pride in Spain; it had been going on for 40 years! For me it was very special, I had never played at the Gay Pride before. It was very emotional because of what it means all the changes that Ive seen and the world has seen. Some countries are more progressive than others. It was also in the main square in Madrid, it's the place where they ring in the New Year, so it's like THE square, so called Kilometer 0, it's the spot in Spain where all the roads go out from. So that was very emotional and it was a challenge. But it was so worth it!

Interview with Stefan Olsdal and Miguel Lopez Mora

In one of your interviews you mentioned that you might make a video clip in Moscow. Are you planning to do it this time?

Stefan: Well we always bring the camera, that's for sure.
Miguel: Let's see how much time we have. I would love to film some people here but let's see what happens with the time. We would love it.
Stefan: Were against the time here.

Stefan, in 2016 you personally presented the premiere of your film PLACEBO: ALT.RUSSIA in Moscow. Why did you decide to make a film about Russian artists and their lives in Russia? After all you have traveled around the world for 20 years and you have seen a lot of countries and met a great number of people - unique and so different, so why Russia?

Stefan: When it was first proposed to us - a tour of Siberia - it was at once a very exciting and frightening prospect. Partly because of our ignorance, and also exciting because wed never been there. We felt it was special because wed never been there in the 20 years of our career, in fact not a lot of bands go there. By then we had already coined a special relationship with Russia wed started 18 years ago. So we decided to document our three weeks in Siberia. When we thought about that, we also thought about the documentaries that the Placebo had already done, which had been more traditional: band on the road; band in a dressing room; band walking to the bus; band talking about the show; band hanging out with fans. We thought thats been done so many times, so why not explore kind of alternative culture in Russia, it would be interesting for us to come in contact with it. And I think for us, living in Europe, were only fed very restricted information and news about Russia. We thought it would be interesting for not just us, but probably more people around the world, to see more about what is happening in this country. For me it became more about the artists in the documentary that I interviewed. I feel very grateful that I could share time with them and that they were willing to talk about their particular art or what they were doing: activism or media.

Interview with Stefan Olsdal and Miguel Lopez Mora

How did you choose these people?

Stefan: Few people I wanted to meet and a few people wed heard about. Also, it depended on our availability for example, we were going to be in Krasnoyarsk for 24 hours, so the question was who is there? Who can we see in 24 hours because we have to get them on film. So there were a few restrictions that determined that too.

Who was the most interesting person for you?

Stefan: I think they all were, in their different fields. Obviously, you can't really compare photography with music or filmmaking with being a sculptor because they are all different. Its like comparing an apple to an orange they are both food but they are not the same. I noticed that the general atmosphere became more heated the closer we got to St Petersburg and Moscow, because of the situation in the country. But it would be unfair to say that I preferred one artist over another. They are all very interesting in their own domain.

Are you planning to make any other documentaries?

Stefan: Id love to. I have a few ideas but nothing as yet. Lets see.

Interview with Stefan Olsdal and Miguel Lopez Mora

When you see dozens of new subgenres and movements appearing in modern electronic music, within just few months, a question arises: is there any direction where the electronic scene is moving to?

Miguel: Well, its moving in all possible directions at the same time, it's like an explosion. The electronic music is the music of our lives and it's the music ever because it's not a genre, its the music itself. The fact is that you can create any genre you want across the electronic music, flamenco, jazz, whatever. This music a sort of vault, its not a style its a way to modernize any kind of music. Its like accompanying a voice with musical instruments. We used to have so many different types of music until synthesizers and computers arrive and suddenly it all multiplied to infinity. The problem is that many people think that electronic music is just the loud beat. But thats just one part of it. Electronic music is today and everything else is the past.

Today, music seems to no longer explain the world, giving way to information technology. Do you see any problem here?

Stefan: I think, music has always been and will always be very important. I just think its the way that its consumed that is different. You know, before the radio you had to buy sheet music to take home and play it because that was the only way you could listen to music. Or you could go and see a live orchestra. But then the vinyl came so you could buy a song and play it at home. Then we had a CD and now weve moved that forward and theres a digital file and you can listen to it when youre walking down the street. You can have everything that you love right here in your phone. So it doesnt mean that music is listened to less, its just listened to in a different way. Just the fact that you have access to every single piece of music ever recorded is absolutely mind-blowing. Just the fact that you have access to all that is amazing. Obviously theres an unfortunate side to this and a lot of musicians are suffering but at the same time theres a wealth of music out there that we couldnt access before.

Do you think music is closely connected with the time when it exists?

Miguel: Sure, mainly. Provided that musicians are not doing a revival, of course. Most music is performed with instruments of its age. When you listen to Bach its not usually a piano. A baroque violin is different to the one of today the sound is different and it takes you to that time.

How can musicians of today influence the society and politics? What would you change if you had a chance?

Stefan: I think all you can do is be completely true to yourself. And that becomes the politics.
Miguel: Its a question for two or three hours! I would change a lot of things. Im at the very nihilistic moment of my life. Even when I was younger I wanted to change the world. But maybe I'm not a realist. When I was young I wanted to see the world changing. So if I start thinking about it even to answer your question maybe I'll explode. Yes, I would change it; I would prefer all the human beings to be nicer to each other and fairer. And with that you can change a lot. But it's pretty difficult.

Stefan, is it difficult to work on your two projects, Placebo and your new project with Miguel, in parallel? How hard is it to be a band, I mean the Placebo band, for such a long time, especially when you write your own music and perform independently?

Stefan: I think a lot in life is about good time management. I have a family as well you know; can you have a family and be in a band at the same time? Its pretty simple; really, its just about time management.

Interview with Stefan Olsdal and Miguel Lopez Mora

You spend a lot of time on the road; can you share with us some funny or unusual stories that happened to you on a tour?

Miguel: He is the one who spends a lot of time on the road.
Stefan: You spend a lot of time there too.
Miguel: Not that much. In the nineties I toured a lot nonstop. It was so long ago so I need some time to remember. Perhaps Stefan should go first.
Stefan: Have you seen Spinal Tap? Its a film about a rock band, but its a comedy. And its actually quite a beautiful story about this band, about their kind of brotherly love, but the film makes fun of rock bands. So theres everything in that film - like the guitarist who wants to turn up his amplifier not just to ten, he wants to have it louder, so he makes his own amplifier with eleven. So his amp doesnt go up to normal ten, no man, it goes one louder, just one louder. And everything that happened in that film, all those embarrassing things, have happened to me. So if you watch that youll go Oh, thats what he meant, how embarrassing. Thats me!
Miguel: This was in the nineties, we were travelling with ten TVs which were part of our show. We had guitar amplifiers, bass amplifiers, drums, key boards and then - 10 TV sets that I wanted to use in all the shows. My musicians absolutely hated me, but the audience loved it, it was amazing. The problem was that we couldnt connect the VHS with all the TVs at the same time. So I transmitted the image to 5 TVs and the others had this kind of interference picture. But the audience didnt realize that 5 TVs werent connected. They thought that was all done on purpose. It was fun. But I think my musicians will always remember this as a nightmare.

Text and photo: Daria Grishina

Interview with Stefan Olsdal and Miguel Lopez Mora

Interview with Stefan Olsdal and Miguel Lopez Mora

  • Interview with Joe Lally
    Most of people know Joe Lally as one of the founding members of Fugazi. After the members of Fugazi